Raf Simons Has a 'Blade Runner' Moment on the Runway

Raf Simons NYFW - Getty - H 2017
JP Yim/Getty

The Belgian designer's moody men's show draws Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore and Christian Slater.

Perhaps the fashion crowd needed this moment under the Manhattan Bridge on Tuesday night: the smell of fish perfuming the air as the Q train roared overhead; food carts piled high with Fiji water and Tsingtao beer mixed in with a standing audience that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Christian Slater, A$AP Rocky and Marc Jacobs; and everyone lining a back alley that had been turned into a runway, which up until showtime was occasionally watered down by production assistants to ensure it achieved the desired effect.

Chinese lanterns and neon signs advertising "Replicants" confirmed that Raf Simons was channeling Blade Runner for his spring 2018 collection, a dystopian fantasy in which the models, men and women, sported distressed, androgynous looks. Everything was wrapped and folded around the body, from oversized raincoats and bib-like tunics that extended below the knee to roomy sweaters that fell off the shoulder and wide-brimmed hats pulled far down over the brow. Everything felt cocoon-like, an apt idea for a bleak, rain-soaked mood.

Fold in the umbrellas carried by each model and an overzealous smoke machine, and at times it was tough to see either the model or his or her sartorial details — and that was precisely the point. Backstage, Simons talked about the blend of Asian and Western cultures — a key design element of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, as well — and the idea of exploring a look that felt neither gender- nor culture-specific. Simons doesn’t care as much about sending out a commercial show for buyers as he does about expressing thoughts rooted in how we continue to evolve as a society, and the role fashion plays in that. (There's a Blade Runner sequel slated to premiere Oct. 6.) 

It’s been a few seasons since a fashion designer asked everyone to trek to an obscure location — an adventure in itself, as more than one attendee ended up on the Manhattan Bridge vs. underneath it, thanks to flummoxed Uber drivers and unreliable GPS — but make no mistake: The audience loved it. This was fashion-as-theater, which isn’t seen in great quantities anymore, especially in New York during the men’s shows, which often seem focused on decidedly more commercial pursuits. After the collection wrapped up and Simons was backstage accepting congratulations, the audience hung around, with this Chinatown back alley taking on the feel of a downtown club that seemed more in keeping with a New York of long ago.

Indeed, Simons is only one season removed from his arrival in New York, so it’s somewhat amusing to see how he’s traveled from the somewhat sunny optimism of his February debut to this dark, steamy underworld in July. Menswear designers thus far have debuted a healthy quantity of bright, optimistic, crisply tailored clothes for spring 2018; even though the air smelled of fish Tuesday evening, Raf Simons made Chinatown feel like a palate cleanser everyone was seeking.